The Most Reverend
Robert Rabbat, DD
by the Mercy of God
Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparch of Australia and New Zealand
the Clergy, my fellow ministers at the Altar,
the Religious and All the Faithful of our Holy Eparchy
which is most beloved of Christ.
A Pastoral Letter for the Feast of the Blessed Nativity
of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 2019
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Grace and mercy and peace from God the Father, and from Christ Jesus, our Lord, be with you.” (2 Tim 1:2)
Once more, a Merciful Providence has brought us to the celebration of the Divine Nativity; and as we draw near to the conclusion of one civil year and the beginning of another, it does us good to look back over the previous twelve months and to consider the many possibilities that lie ahead in the Year of Grace, 2020.
We have observed during these last several weeks all the paraphernalia of the “secular Christmas”. There is a bizarre contradiction in that the aggressive marketing strategies of the department stores and shopping centres are accompanied by non-stop canned Christmas carols. We can be certain that the ring of the cash registers is the only “music” about which entrepreneurs care.
For the People of God, the time before Christmas, varying in length from one Church to another, and commonly referred to as Advent, is a time of prayerful preparation for the celebration of the Nativity. As the weeks have passed, the People of the New Covenant have identified in great measure with the messianic yearnings of the Old Israel.
There is a vast difference between Christmas as simply a “nice” celebration and that Blessed Feast which has at its heart the Mystery of the Emanuel, The-God-Who-Is-With-Us. To a certain extent we must take at least part of the responsibility for the degradation of the Feast – the market place only gets away with what we allow.
The pervasive presence of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, and the corresponding (almost complete) disappearance of St Nicholas, the Holy Bishop of Myra, the real Father Christmas, is an indicator of just how far and how rapidly a religious motif can be high-jacked and perverted. Likewise, the lights that decorate a Christian home should first announce that the occupants of the house are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Light of the World.
It is no exaggeration to say that this is not any easy time to be a Christian, and especially a Catholic. In the Holy Gospel, our Lord advises a prudent relationship between Church and State – “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and give to God the things that are God’s.” (Mk 12:17) However, what was a wise dominical counsel has become for many secularists a pretext to exclude any contrary opinion, especially if expressed by a person of faith; as if Christians were somehow not full citizens.
Public discussion on several issues that have an obvious moral dimension is often reduced to a recitation of mantra-like slogans, and any dissenting viewpoint is likely to attract a torrent of abuse and accusations of an ever increasing number of so-called phobias. In what is supposed to be a liberal, western democracy, more often than not, it seems that we can say what we like, provided others like what we say.
In certain States we have witnessed a previously unthinkable campaign for abortion up to the time of birth. Recent euthanasia legislation in Western Australia places that government amongst the most death obsessed administrations in the world. It must surely grieve any Australian to see our nation slowly ensnared by what Pope St John Paul II so often denounced as “the culture of death.”
We have seen in at least three jurisdictions in Australia, legislation passed that requires priests to violate the absolute confidentiality of the confessional. Invariably, the discussion that accompanies such proposals indicates an appalling ignorance of Catholic and Orthodox belief and sacramental practice. To such legislation, the Catholic Church responds with an unequivocal, No!
Unfortunately, “the person in the street” is easily misled by those glib media pundits who manipulate the strand of anti-Catholicism which has been present in Australian society since the earliest days of settlement. One cannot but wonder at what insidious role the forces of darkness have played in all this.
It is in times of great difficulty, and often tragic circumstances, that we see the especially encouraging quality of all Australians, of whatever ethnic or religious background, to help and support each other. The bushfires that have ravaged much of the countryside in New South Wales and southern Queensland have been met with heroic sacrifices by the emergency services, and a remarkable resilience by individuals, families and communities who have lost everything.
This Christmas, I would urge everyone to be generous when giving to recognised charities working for bushfire relief. Above all, let us prayerfully place the pressing needs of all concerned before the Good Lord, the Divine Philanthropist.
Surveys across the world regularly determine that Christianity is the most persecuted religious community. Faced with this anti-Church onslaught we could respond in several ways. Some might be tempted to retreat from an increasingly hostile society, and become anonymous Christians practising our faith behind closed doors as if in a soviet era “religious museum”. For others the answer might be found in no-protest surrender, abandoning the truth, and with Pilate, washing our hands, as if we can be absolved of our betrayal.
I pray that none of us falls into either of these errors. As we gaze upon the icon of the Nativity, as we kneel before the manger in which the Blessed Theotokos has placed her Divine Child, let us resolve with all our hearts, to remain faithful to the call we have received. God forbid that we who have put our hands to the plough should lose all by looking back.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
When the Angel appeared to the shepherds at Beit Sahur, St Luke the Evangelist says that “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9), what was this “glory” if not the Shekina, the sign of The Presence of God, which had long been absent from the Temple. However, at Bethlehem that holy night, the Abiding Presence again came into this world to dwell among humankind – “and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)
It is my fervent prayer that for each of you – every family and every household – this Christmas and the coming New Year will be a time of Joy and Peace.
Christ is born! Glorify Him! Χριστός γεννάται! Δοξάσατε! المسـيحُ وُلِد، فَمَـجِّدُوه
With my paternal blessing and with prayers assured,
X Robert Rabbat, DD
From our Eparchy at Greenacre, New South Wales,